Cigarette problems cloud SDGs targets

16 May 2017:

Indonesia’s role in global development was recognized when then-president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in 2012 co-chaired the United Nation’s High-level Panel on the post-2015 agenda. The panel defined the global development framework that succeeded the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and was incorporated into the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by world leaders at a UN summit in 2015.

However, During the 4th Indonesian Conference on Tobacco or Health 2017 that kicked off on Monday in Jakarta, government officials and academics raised concerns about cigarette smoking, which they feared could hamper the government’s efforts to achieve the SDGs targets.

Several of the 17 goals, especially those regarding the economic and health sectors, were highlighted during the conference, which was organized as a pre-event ahead of the World No Tobacco Day on May 31.

“We are facing great challenges regarding the age level of smokers. Data from 2014 show that 36 percent of male smokers and 20 percent of female smokers started smoking between the ages of 13 and 15,” Health Minister Nila Moeloek said when opening the two-day conference.

Fifty-seven percent of adult men in Indonesia are smokers, according to the 2014 World Cancer Report. The Health Ministry stated in 2016 that smokers accounted for 36 percent of the total population.

Nina also stated that problems from smoking could thwart hopes to benefit from the expected demographic bonus in 2035. “If productive age citizens suffer diseases from smoking in the future, they will not be productive,” she said.

Nila added that the government had been trying to decrease the number of smokers under the age of 18 from 8.8 percent in 2015 to 5.4 percent in 2019, which is in line with the third SDG of ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being.

But Indonesia has always found itself in major dilemmas when dealing with tobacco and its related industries. The Manpower and Transmigration Ministry said recently that 5.6 million Indonesians, or about 5 percent of the total workforce, work in the tobacco sector.

House of Representatives Commission IX overseeing health and labor member Ermalena said the government should focus on health issues in its efforts to control the use of tobacco.

“There are about 7,000 citizens, registered in the national health insurance program, who suffer from heart problems and need heart surgery. Smoking is the main factor triggering this,” said Ermalena, a politician from the Prosperous Justice Party (PPP).

Bimo Wijayanto, a member of the Presidential Staff Office, said that smoking also hampered efforts to reduce poverty.

“Expenditure for cigarettes ranks second only to food in poor households. This will affect the quality of human resources in the future,” he said.

The Head of Indonesian Public Health Experts Association (IAKMI), Ridwan Thaha, highlighted another dilemma. “We often see cigarette companies create scholarships as part of their corporate social responsibility programs,” he said, adding that several universities had begun refusing educational aid from cigarette companies.

Bimo said that it was important for the public to realize that scholarships and other social welfare programs from the cigarette companies could never outweigh the negative effects of smoking. (rdi)